Sex workers want larger role in AIDS control programmes says Indian Network of Sex Workers

Times of India

This story was originally featured in the Times of India on the 16 June 2011.

    PUNE: Sex workers want to be included in the planning and development of health programmes and initiatives that address their risks and vulnerabilities.

    Forty women from Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Goa and Maharashtra participated in the two-day western regional meet held in the city to discuss and plan the fourth phase of the National AIDS Control Programme (NACP IV). The meet concluded on Tuesday.

    "We no longer want to be seen as recipients, but as designers and managers of health programmes," Sunita from Gujarat said.The consultations were initiated by the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) that spearheads the National AIDS Control Programmes that are tagged on to the NACP IV design. It involves critical areas that communities and civil society want to get incorporated.

    "The meeting focused on identifying the gaps in NACP III and identifying priority and critical areas that matter for the community which need to be addressed in NACP IV," Meena Sheshu, member of the Indian Network of Sex Workers (INSW), said. The group had hosted the meet.

    The community looked into the rights, entitlements and treatment issues in the NACO programmes. "The group wanted issues related to dignity, equality and livelihood be included and prioritised in the health framework," Sheshu said. The recommendations made will be shared with NACO, she added.

    "Our problems are best known to us and hence we want to be included in the planning process. Our voices should be heard," said Puja, a peer educator from Madhya Pradesh. The community was concerned about repeated acts of stigma and discrimination and violence against them by the police.

    "When one of us was taken to the hospital, the officials put up a board identifying her as 'High Risk Group' on her bed. Other patients took offence against the woman. We fought with the hospital officials and the doctors. It is important that the behaviour of those in the healthcare sector changes. They must be sensitised," Laxmi, a sex worker from Gujarat, said. Another peer educator from Goa suggested that the new framework address raids by police and unlawful arrests of sex workers. "We are not against the law. We oppose trafficking of minors and forced prostitution. Police action against the community must be checked by the government as it drives the community underground and out of the HIV programme," she said.

    The recommendations made by community groups will be treated as national recommendations. They will suggest the framework of NACP IV for the communities and civil society. The suggestions will be presented to Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad on June 19 and later to NACO.

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